2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
First Drive Review

Okay, you’ve read about the other Grand Cherokees. You’ve read about diesel engines and Eco modes and Trail Rated. Now forget all of that. The SRT may be a Grand Cherokee, but its aspirations tend more to the Viper side of life. Appropriately, Jeep took us to Austin, Texas, and the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to sample the new track-rated aspects of its updated hot-rod SUV.

The major changes for the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT are a new eight-speed automatic with paddles for shifting and, somewhat oddly, the same Eco button that has made its way to the other models. (To flip an old saying, the Eco button in the SRT looks like the lonely little onion in the petunia patch.) SRT did its share of speed hacking of the software to adapt the transmission to the nature of the vehicle, and the eight-speed’s brains hold more than 90 shift maps. Downshifts now include rev matching. Externally, the SRT is the nastiest-looking of the Grand Cherokees—more so with new squinting headlamps—and it sits much lower than the other models. Rolling stock consists of 20-inch wheels shod with 295/45 Pirelli P Zeros. Brembo brakes peek out through the wheel spokes.

Combine those upgrades with the 6.4-liter Hemi and its 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque—plus new launch control—and we figure it’ll hit 60 in 4.6 seconds. At COTA, we put the Selec-Track system in the Track mode (yes, SRT renamed Jeep’s long-running Selec-Trac 4WD system to emphasize the “track” aspects of its grander Grand Cherokee), which is the firmest of the five mode settings. Revised for 2014, each of those modes on the center-console-mounted rotary dial has its own damping and shift strategies, as well as transfer-case torque proportioning: Auto (40-percent front/60-percent rear), Sport (35/65), Tow (50/50), Track (30/70), and Snow (50/50). Helmet on, off we went.

A one-word review of COTA: “wonderful.” It’s not just a beautifully finished facility but truly a track worthy of Formula 1. We climb up the hill to Turn One, then quickly down the other side through esses that tighten up. Next, it’s downhill to the back straight, where we find 120 mph in the SRT, then back into the tight stuff, eventually twisting to the front straight and hitting 110-plus mph before rushing up the hill again. It’s all great fun, underlined by an exhaust rumble that almost rattles the windows.

It was about Turn Three when we forgot we were in an SUV. The comparably better balance of the SRT chassis versus the base Grand Cherokee setup was evident through the esses and while climbing the uphill portions. The Jeep’s all-wheel drive imparted a sense of stability as we clipped left in Turn 10 and down to the hairpin that leads to the back straight. The 8.4-inch touch screen's software has performance pages that record such factors as acceleration and lateral g for the techno geeks out there. “Record” is the important word there, as you'd be too busy to check the screen when on-track, but it's fun bar trivia for later.